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GS-2


Polity and governance

Govt. may oversee mutts and temples (TH)

Context

Amendment to Muzrai Act

News

Religious mutts and temples under their control that have so far remained outside the ambit of the government could come within it’s purview if changes being considered for the ‘Muzrai’ Act is any indication

7 member Committee

A seven-member committee, currently in the process of suggesting comprehensive changes in the Act, is considering inclusion of mutts and temples controlled by mutts under the purview of the Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, popularly known as ‘Muzrai’ Act

Amendments to the 1997 Act struck down in 2015

  • Non-inclusion of mutts and temples run by them, and keeping away Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs from the definition of “Hindus” had led a Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court to strike down the 2011 and 2012 Amendments brought to the Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997
  • Terming the exclusion as “illegal and discriminatory”, the high court had struck down amendments in 2015
  • Even the 1997 Act was stuck down by the High Court in 2006 on the same grounds that mutts have been kept outside the purview, but the Supreme Court stayed a portion of the High Court’s ruling

Hence, government now wants to bring a uniform and comprehensive Act that will overcome loopholes

High courts’ ruling: Changes being considered

K’tka HC ruling stressed on raised issues pertaining to Article 14, 25 and 26 of Indian constitution that refer to fundamental rights of the citizens

These included how the mutts had been kept away from the Act and how Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs were not brought under the Act

  • These observations of the court are being considered
  • Apart from this, there are Supreme Court observations too that will be incorporated

Other changes

  • Handing over temples to families: The Muzrai Department has received 70 applications after it decided to let go of “C” category temples to families where priests have hereditarily performed duties. The department also intends to let go of gadduges (seats) of seers of various mutts that are currently under its supervision

Agama Schools

In a bid to create access to learning of Agama, Sanskrit and vedas to aspiring priests, a proposal has been mooted to start Agama schools from the next academic year in six temple towns across the State. The temples at KukkeSubramanya, Kollur, Devarayanadurga, and YellammaGudda are among those identified to start the schools, which will train aspirants and issue certificates. Currently, there are 32 Agama schools run by the government

Agama: The Agamas are a collection of scriptures of several Hindu devotional schools. The term literally means tradition or “that which has come down”

The one­-election idea is a farce(TH Ed)

Context

The case for holding simultaneous elections in the diverse, federal Indian polity is weak

News

In his address on National Law Day 2017, Prime Minister of India once again raised the issue ofsimultaneous elections to Parliament and all State Assemblies, under the banner of “one nation one election”

  • 4 reasons: He also cited four reasons:
  1. Massive expenditure
  2. Diversion of security and civil staff from primary duties
  3. Impact on governance due to the model code of conduct, and
  4. Disruption to normal public life

Author’s contention

The case is weak and the reasons are a mere alibi (cover)

Massive expenditure?

  • Cost incurred by EC: The Election Commission incurs a total cost of roughly ₹8,000 crore to conduct all State and federal elections in a span of five years, or roughly ₹1,500 crore every year
  • Cost per Indian voter:Nearly 600 million Indians vote in India’s elections, which means, it costs ₹27 per voter per year to keep India an electoral democracy
  • To put this in context, all the States and the Centre combined incurred an expenditure of nearly ₹30 lakh crore in FY2014
  • Not so massive after all: Surely, 0.05% of India’s total annual expenditure is not a large price to pay for the pride of being the world’s largest and most vibrant electoral democracy. The notion that elections are prohibitively expensive is false and misleading

Code of conduct and polls

Model code of conduct

The model code of conduct for elections was agreed to by political parties in 1979, and prohibits the ruling party from incurring capital expenditure for certain projects after elections are announced. Author states that if the political parties feel that code hinders governance in other states, then it should be the code, not the electoral cycle which needs to be reformed

The real reason: Excessive dependence on national leaders

Governance paralysis due to State elections is a mere alibi. The real reason is that the two national parties are excessively dependent on their national leaders’ campaigns in State elections, as seen in Gujarat. This is certainly a drain on the Prime Minister’s time and a distraction from governance. Depending on their national leaders is the problem and the prerogative of the national parties. It is not the fault of the electoral system

  • In the elections in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, in 2016, and where the two national parties and their leaders had a minimal role, nothing stopped the Union government from continuing its governance for the rest of India. Thus it is wrong to combine the interests of the national parties with those of the “flaws” of the electoral system

Diversion of staff& disruption of public life

Author states that above two reasons are not sufficient to revamp the electoral system because interim accountability is much more important where a voter is able to exercise his/her right twice every 5 years rather than having no option to express his/her opinion for the next 5 years

Voter behavior

Author’s own research of all simultaneous elections to State Assemblies and Parliament between 1999 and 2014 shows that simultaneous elections do have an impact on voter behaviour

  • Analysis: These elections comprised 513 million voter choices. In 77% of these constituencies, voters chose the same political party for both State and Centre. When elections were held even six months apart, only 61% chose the same political party. When elections became disparate, there was no evidence of the voter choosing the same party
  • Deduction:There is clear empirical evidence that most Indian voters tend to choose the same party when elections are held simultaneously to both Centre and State, with the relationship diminishing as elections are held farther away

Political autonomy

Simultaneous elections impinge on the political autonomy of States

  • Present situation: Today, any elected State government can choose to dissolve its Assembly and call for fresh elections. If elections are to be held simultaneously, States will have to give up this power and wait for a national election schedule. There can be legitimate reasons for State governments to dissolve their Assemblies and call for fresh elections, as should be the case in Tamil Nadu
  • If elections are to be held simultaneously: Under a simultaneous elections regime, the State will be beholden to the Union government for elections to its State, which goes against the very grain of political autonomy under our federal structure

Additional read: Research done by the author as cited in the article above is listed here

Social issues

Rape of minors to attract death in M.P.

Context

With this, Madhya Pradesh becomes the first State where those convicted of such rapes will face the gallows

What has happened?

The Madhya Pradesh Assembly on Monday unanimously passed a Bill awarding death to those found guilty of raping girls aged 12 and below. With this, Madhya Pradesh becomes the first State where those convicted of such rapes will face the gallows. The Bill will now be sent to the President for his assent, after which it will become a law

Capital punishment

Capital punishment would be awarded to convicts under Section 376 (A), which is related to rape, and Section 376 (D, A), pertaining to gang-rape

21st century India cannot shun leprosy patients: SC

Context

Twenty­ first century society cannot justify shunning persons affected by leprosy or keeping them hidden in homes and away from the mainstream,

the Supreme Court declared in an order on Monday

What has happened?

A bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, acting on a PIL filed by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy has asked the central government to respond in eight weeks to a call to repeal 119 Central and State laws in practice since the 1950s that discriminate against leprosy patients, stigmatize and isolate them despite the fact that modern medicine completely cures the disease

  • Bench found that these statutory laws continue to recognise superstitions that leprosy is “infectious and has something to do with genetics”

Bench’s observations

Twenty-first century society cannot justify shunning persons affected by leprosy or keeping them hidden in homes and away from the mainstream

Petitioners’ position

  • The petition has urged the court to intervene and pave the way for recognising the fundamental right to equality, dignity and equal opportunity of persons affected by leprosy
  • These laws rob persons affected by leprosy by denying them equal treatment under personal laws, in matters of employment and appointment or election to public office, as well as access to and free movement in public places
  • Such unequal treatment irrationally treats persons affected by leprosy as a separate class even though with the latest medical advancements, leprosy is rendered non-infectious after the very first dose of Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT), the World Health Organisation-recommended treatment regime for leprosy

How such laws discriminate?

There are 119 laws that discriminate against persons affected by leprosy in broadly the following five ways:

  • Cause stigmatization and indignity to persons affected by leprosy
  • Isolate/segregate persons affected by leprosy
  • Deny them access to public services
  • Impose disqualifications on them under personal laws
  • Bar them from occupying or standing for public posts or office

Discriminatory laws

  • Some of the discriminatory provisions are part of laws named in the petition, which include the
  • Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation Act, 1981
  • Puducherry Municipalities Act, 1973
  • Tamil Nadu District Municipalities Act, 1920
  • Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957
  • Chennai Municipal Corporation Act, 1919
  • Kerala Khadi and Village Industries Board Act of 1957
  • Andhra Pradesh Public Libraries Act of 1969, which bans membership to persons affected by leprosy

MDT for leprosy

The drugs used in WHO-MDT are a combination of rifampicin, clofazimine and dapsone for MB leprosy patients and rifampicin and dapsone for PB leprosy patients

  • Among these rifampicin is the most important antileprosy drug and therefore is included in the treatment of both types of leprosy

Stand up against torture(The Hindu, editorial)

Context

India has undermined its prestige by repeatedly promising — and failing — to ratify the Convention against Torture

Convention against torture

The Convention Against Torture (CAT) came into force in 1987 and India signed it in 1997. Today, the CAT has 162 state parties; 83 are signatories

India in the unceremonious league

In refusing to ratify the CAT, India is in the inglorious company of Angola, the Bahamas, Brunei, Gambia, Haiti, Palau, and Sudan. In 2008, at the universal periodical review by the Human Rights Council (HRC) of the UN, country after country recommended that India expedite ratification. India’s response was that ratification was “being processed”

False promises

In 2011, desiring to be appointed on the HRC of the UN, India took the extraordinary step of voluntarily “pledging” to ratify the CAT

  • The pledge stated: “India has been a consistent supporter of the UN human rights system” and “remains committed to ratifying the CAT”
  • Once on the Council, India forgot its commitment
  • In the 2012 review, once again countries overwhelmingly recommended that India “promptly” ratify the CAT to which India responded “supported”, which indicates agreement

India has been making promises but doesn’t seem intent on keeping them, much to the dismay of the countries attending the review proceedings

SC observations on torture case

Torture cases have escalated in India

  • In Raghbir Singh v. State of Haryana (1980), the Supreme Court said it was “deeply disturbed by the diabolical recurrence of police torture.” “Police lock-ups,” it said, “are becoming more awesome cells.”
  • In Shakila Abdul Gafar Khan v. Vasant Raghunath Dhoble (2003), the Supreme Court said that “torture is assuming alarming proportions… on account of the devilish devices adopted. The concern which was shown in Raghubir’s case has fallen on deaf ears”
  • In Munshi Singh Gautam v. State of M.P. (2004), the Supreme Court said: “Civilisation itself would risk the consequence of heading towards total decay resulting in anarchy and authoritarianism reminiscent of barbarism.”

Ratification can come first

  • In response to India’s excuse that it was necessary for Parliament to enact anti-torture legislation prior to ratification, a fitting answer was given by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said that it was “an erroneous idea” and “a misconception” that the state must enact legislation first and ratify later
  • Ratification only signals the beginning of a process to amend national laws so that they conform to international human rights standards. It demonstrates goodwill and political intention to comply with international norms and standards

Only excuses

After the prevention of torture bill 2010 was allowed to lapse, a petition was filed in Supreme Court in 2016, seeking a direction to the Union government to ratify the CAT. Despite its numerous promises to the UN bodies, the government opposed the petition saying that the Law Commission of India was considering the issue

  • This excuse was also rendered useless by the prompt production of a report by the Law Commission strongly recommending ratification and the drafting of comprehensive legislation instead of ad hoc amendments in the Indian Penal Code

Conclusion

In showing the world that India has no intention of combating the terror of its own forces and of implementing its promises made to the UN, the government has undermined India’s prestige. To be a world power, India must act like one

A lifeline, interrupted –

Context

Government is prioritizing savings over MGNREGA and rights of the poor

Author’s contention

There are prominent ways in which it is evident that the government is prioritizing saving at the cost of its poorest people — a breach of the law and the Constitution

Present situation

  • In 2017, more than 80 per cent of the budgetary allocation was spent in the first four months
  • The ministry of rural development’s (MoRD) request for an additional Rs 17,000 crore has so far been ignored. Currently, with only about 5 per cent of the allocation remaining, there is a sharp rationing of expenditure and work
  • Liabilities for work already completed mount on a daily basis. There are states where the central government has failed to clear wages for over two months

Sanjit Roy v. the State of Rajasthan

In 1983, in Sanjit Roy v. the State of Rajasthan the Supreme Court stated, “where a person provides labour or service to another for remuneration which is less than the minimum wage, the labour or service provided by him clearly falls within the meaning of the words ‘forced labour’

  • If anything less than the minimum wage is paid to him, he can complain of violation of his fundamental right under Article 23 and ask the Court to direct payment of the minimum wage to him
  • There are now at least 14 states where the state MGNREGA wage is less than the minimum wage

Mahendra Dev committee: Baseline for MGNREGA wage

The Mahendra Dev Committee set up by UPA 2 unequivocally stated that “The baseline for MGNREGA wage indexation from 2014 may be the current minimum wage rate for unskilled agricultural labourers fixed by the States under the Minimum Wages Act or the current MGNREGA wage rate, whichever is higher”

Breach of constitution

As a part of a judgment in an ongoing case in the SC, Justice Lokur and Ramana built upon the Sanjit Roy judgment and stated: “It is quite clear, therefore, that when the rights of tens of thousands of people are affected by delayed payment of their legitimate dues, there is a clear constitutional breach committed by the State — be it the Government of India or a State Government.”

A conscious denial

A recent independent study by three social scientists in two phases, traces the central government’s conscious delay in wage payments and the deliberate denial of responsibility to pay compensation

  • Data Sample: Analysing over 90 lakh transactions in the MGNREGA Management Information System (MIS) for 3,446 gram panchayats for FY 2016-17 and 45 lakh transactions in 3,603 gram panchayats in FY 2017-18,
    • False claims: It shows that only 32 per cent of payments are being made in time, against the government claim of 85 per cent
    • In the sample, compensation due is a willfully under-calculated by 86 per cent. Only about 6.5 per cent of what should be paid as compensation has been paid so far.

Acceptance by MoF

The first phase of the study was reviewed internally by the Ministry of Finance, which accepted that “In cases of delays in making large number of payments, it has been found that funds have not been available either of Centre and State shares… It was found that the delay in payment to states was mainly due to infrastructural bottlenecks, availability of funds and lack of administrative compliance.”

Conclusion

India’s high levels of rural distress in the last few years can be partially addressed by the MGNREGA — a potential lifeline for rural workers. For MGNREGA workers to state that they are going through “a living death” is the most disturbing judgement that can be delivered.


GS-3


Economy

Bail-in doubts(TH Ed)

Context

The government needs to re-­examine the proposed financial resolution legislation

Concerns about Bail-in clause

Introduced in Parliament this August, it has caused great anxiety about the safety of funds parked by millions of households in bank deposits — fears that it will enable banks to be ‘bailed in’ by depositors’ funds rather than being ‘bailed out’ by taxpayers (or potential buyers)

Recapitalisation

The government has promised a ₹2.11-lakh crore recapitalisation plan for public sector banks that are now taking haircuts on defaulted loans being put through the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. When banks, in turn, face collapse, the fear is that depositors could face similar haircuts or write-downs on the value of their savings in the bank and perhaps be issued securities instead

  • Rationale for this provision:This provision in the FRDI Bill is purportedly with an eye on resolving bankruptcy scenarios among financial entities, some of which could be too big to fail or systemically important.

Finance minister’s view

A lot of corrections’ could still take place; the Bill is currently being reviewed by a parliamentary committee whose report will be considered by the Cabinet

Global debate over bail-in clause

As a resolution tool for stressed financial firms, the bail-in clause has been the subject of much debate, but it remains the least well-established across the world. Even the committee framing the FRDI law has noted that it should typically be used where continuing a firm’s services is considered vital but its sale is unviable — not as a lazy default option. If lenders don’t believe that a bail-in plan would salvage a firm, triggering the clause could end up causing a run on the bank instead of preventing one

PS: Provisions of the FRDI Bill has already been discussed in earlier briefs

Centre prepares to redefine ‘employment’

Context

Panel to bat for ‘pragmatic’ approach to classify formal work

Job creation

The government’s own data showed that job creation in the formal sector was slowest in almost a decade, but it has said that it felt the ground reality on jobs was not being ‘properly’ captured as the existing system takes into account only the formal sector

Change in the offing

The situation could change soon. Speaking to The Hindu, commerce and industry minister Suresh Prabhu said “all the economic activity in India, including in the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) and informal sectors, will soon get properly captured.

Task Force on Improving Employment Data

A task force was set up in May 2017 under the chairmanship of the then Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog, Arvind Panagariya

  • Terms of reference of the task force: The panel’s terms of reference included assessing the existing data systems and sources that provide information on jobs and job creation and then identifying alternate sources that could provide such data. The terms also included recommending mechanisms for capturing information on jobs and job creation on a regular basis for both the informal and formal sectors
  • The panel had identified the Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency (MUDRA) scheme, which provides small, unsecured loans to enterprises, as an important source of job creation

Major recommendation

Among the main recommendations could be a change in the definition of employment/workers as well as ways to include and measure employment in the informal sector as well, he indicated.

What does the draft report say?

  • According to the draft report, there is no fixed definition of formal workers currently in India
  • It said all definitions were highly restrictive, and exclude many workers who have decent and steady jobs but either do not work in large enough enterprises or do not have written contracts. The task force said it was desirable to adopt a new, more ‘pragmatic’ definition of formal workers

From Plate to Plough: Agri-futures, like China

Context

In November, prices of most major kharif crops crashed below their respective minimum support prices (MSPs), triggering farm distress. One of the many reasons behind this situation is that planting decisions of our farmers are based on last year’s prices, rather than the prices expected at the time of harvest. Signals indicating future prices are largely absent as agri-futures have been decimated by excessive controls and regulation

  • It is time to think afresh and resurrect agri-futures in India

Futures market in India

  • In 2003, the Atal Bihari Vajpayeegovernment’s decisions to allow futures markets in India — after a long gap — was hailed as a big and bold step towards better price discovery for farmers. This, in turn, was supposed to help farmers take informed planting decisions. In the initial years — 2003-2007 — agri-futures did show promising growth
  • But around 2007-2008, they were hit by the global food price crisis. Agri-futures picked up momentum again and peaked in 2011-2012. However, since then, there has been heavy government intervention in agri-futures with higher margin requirements as well as absolute suspensions, resulting in their near collaps

Chinese future market

The agri-futures market was introduced in the early 1990s in China. It struggled for a decade, but thereafter Chinese agri-futures had such a robust growth that by 2016, it was at the top of global chart, crossing the 1,000 million mark, dwarfing India’s 20 million contracts in the process.

What lessons can India learn from China in order to promote its agri-futures and help its farmers in better price discovery? 

China experimented with several things, including inviting experts from the Chicago Board of Trade in the US, rationalising commodities and exchanges by closing down trade in many items and focusing on a few farm products, especially the less sensitive ones. However, to understand India’s story better, we need to look at the perceptions and actions of three key stakeholders: Policy-makers, regulators (FMC/SEBI), and commodity exchanges. A pre-requisite for the development of aagri-futures market is to have a stable policy environment

What needs to be done?

The government, including the regulator, should provide a favourable environment for the futures trade to flourish. Commodity exchanges have to invest in designing appropriate contracts for business development. Abrupt interventions, with frequent changes in stocking restrictions on private trade, have reduced the prospects of agri-futures in India

  1. So, if one has to develop agri-futures in India, the first lesson is to stay away from sensitive commodities (for example, common rice, wheat, most pulses, and even sugar), at least for some time, till futures gain momentum and some depth. It would be prudent to focus on less sensitive commodities like oilseed complex (oilseeds, meals, and oils), feed (maize), cotton, basmati rice and spices. Once markets are developed and the regulator has a higher degree of comfort, the country can diversify to other commodities in the agri-futures portfolio. This is what China also seems to have done
  2. Second, for the government to be assured that speculators are not rigging markets, the regulator should allow only delivery-based contracts, at least till markets deepen. This is another lesson from the Chinese experience: All agri-commodities traded at the Dalian Commodity Exchange are physical-delivery based.
  3. Third, like its Chinese counterpart, the government of India should encourage state trading enterprises (STEs) to trade on the agri-futures platform. This will boost the government’s confidence in agri-futures as it will have ample information from its STEs. In China, STEs, the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation (COFCO) for example, have a major presence in the agri-futures’ markets. COFCO is directly administered by China’s State Council and is the largest food processor, manufacturer and largest exporter and importer in the country. It trades in agri-commodities like soybean oil and meal, palm oil, cotton and sugar in the futures market. India’s STEs like the MMTC, STC, PEC or even the FCI can participate on the agri-futures platform in a similar manner, helping it to deepen.
  4. Lastly, it has to be recognised that developing agri-futures is as much the responsibility of the regulator as that of commodity exchanges, and both need to work in harmony for the benefit of various stakeholders, especially farmers who need useful information about future prices for their products while they are planting those crops

Disaster Management

After the storm(IE)

Context

Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Odisha have systems in place to tackle the seasonal cyclones, but Kerala was found wanting. The northeast monsoon, which is often accompanied by cyclonic winds, brings rainfall to Kerala

Authors’ contention

Clear and timely predictions can help limit the loss of human life. In the case of Cyclone Ockhi, the evidence points to a major communication failure

The northeast monsoon, which is often accompanied by cyclonic winds, brings rainfall to Kerala. The sea turns rough and periodically eats away the coast, but the monster winds and waves witnessed on the Coromandel coast rarely visit the Kerala coastal area

Why Kerala suffered?

By all accounts, the gravity of the Met department warning on the cyclonic storm was lost on the authorities and the fishermen

  • Also, the window between the advisory and the arrival of the storm was too short for fishermen, who had already set sail, to return, though many boats, trapped in the wind and waves, managed to reach the shore far north of their home ports
  • The navy and the coast guard braved the rough weather to rescue others adrift on the choppy waters but coastal communities are angry that the state government, which seems to have been surprised by the freak weather condition, was slow to react

What should be done?

Kerala needs to revamp its disaster warning mechanism and put in place quick-response systems

Way forward: Adaptation to changing weather patterns

  • Climate change experts have predicted that weather patterns are changing and coastal areas will need to adapt to hitherto unknown conditions, especially frequent storms
  • The Met department needs to become more people-friendly and learn to issue jargon-free advisories. The state government needs to improve its communication systems so that Met warnings reach the public on time and are issued in precise and clear terms
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